When is the right time for the Hornets to get James Bouknight into the rotation?

James Bouknight, Charlotte Hornets (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
James Bouknight, Charlotte Hornets (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) /

When James Bouknight was drafted with the 11th pick by the Charlotte Hornets, many thought he would fill the hole in the backcourt that was left by the departures of Devonte’ Graham and Malik Monk.

Now over midway through the season, fans have only gotten a very small taste of Bouknight in the rotation. He’s only appeared for a couple of minutes at the end of a game when the result is all but over and when the Hornets were hit hard by COVID-19, causing head coach James Borrego to go deep into his roster to field a team.

Bouknight has spent most of his time in the G-League with the Greensboro Swarm. He’s performed very well for them averaging 25.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 4.0 rebounds per game. He hasn’t had an eye-popping performance, some eye-popping plays for sure, but in just about every game he’s played it’s obvious he’s likely the best player on the court and probably shouldn’t be playing in the G-League.

Bouknight should have been a regular member of the rotation, but due to the addition of Kelly Oubre Jr. and the growth of Cody Martin and Jalen McDaniels on the bench, it’s been hard to find the rookie any minutes, especially since the Hornets are competing for a playoff spot.

You could argue that since the Hornets are competing, getting Bouknight in the mix now makes a lot of sense. Allowing the rookie to grow and get used to winning at the same time doesn’t sound like a bad idea. However, it seems the staff doesn’t want to have a rookie that they probably consider “raw” go through his growing pains while the team is trying to get a top 6 seed in the Eastern Conference. They want to play players they trust and have fully adapted to the system.

While Bouknight is likely a better offensive player than Martin and McDaniels, that isn’t what the Hornets, who are ranked third in offensive rating, need. What they need is defense and Martin and McDaniels are two of the best defensive players on the roster.

Both sides of that argument make sense. The Hornets player development program has proven to work and Bouknight’s time will certainly come. Everyone in the building knows just how talented he is and how good he can be but the question remains.

When will the Hornets unleash James Bouknight?

Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer to that. We could try to look at recent rookie history with the Hornets but every situation is different. Last year it was LaMelo Ball, the third overall pick with loads of talent who was immediately a part of the rotation and a starter after 20 games. Before him, it was PJ Washington who was a more “pro-ready” prospect after a two-year college stint and was immediately in the starting lineup the moment he put on an NBA jersey. Before that, Miles Bridges immediately got minutes off the bench and was a starter 58 games into the season.

Again, these Hornets teams were all different. We have been bad. Like BAD, bad. Like bad enough to get the third overall pick (thanks to a little bit of lottery luck) bad.

That’s no longer the case. While the Hornets may not be a team you consider elite (yet) and have their obvious flaws, they can beat any team. Ok maybe not the Phoenix Suns, but any team but the Suns, on any given night. They can also lose to any team on any given night. You just don’t know what you’re going to get.

If this were any team in the last three years, we would probably have seen Bouknight on day one.

If I were Borrego, I would start finding minutes for Bouknight as soon as possible. If anything, the rookie can score. There have been plenty of games this season where the Hornets have struggled to knock down shots and inserting Bouknight to try and spark a run would have made a lot of sense.

The staff may think that’s a lot of pressure on the rookie and depending on the opponent, that fair reasoning. However, when you’re losing to the 7-win Orlando Magic and your shooters are struggling to knock down shots and you also are without Oubre, it may not be a bad idea to try something new.

It would be very surprising  to me if the Hornets were to go a full season without getting a rookie as talented as Bouknight some more minutes. Hopefully we see our future star in the rotation sooner rather than later.

Next. As Malik Monk excels the Hornets still made the right decision. dark

It’s a certainty that Bouknight’s time will come, patience is a virtue, and Charlotte’s development staff has shown us time and time again that they just might know what they’re doing. For now we can just watch this video of him scoring 24 points agaisnt the Capital City Go-Go.